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Telecom Track: Indian Railways makes its systems more customer responsive

March 31, 2014
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Established in 1986, the Centre for Railway Information Systems (CRIS) is an autonomous organisation under the Ministry of Railways. It is headquartered in Delhi with regional offices in Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai and Secunderabad.

 

The company develops and manages the Indian Railways’ (IR) technology applications. It also provides applications for other government and public sector organisations. Currently, its project portfolio includes a host of functions of IR, including passenger ticketing, freight operations, train dispatching and control, crew management, e-procurement, management of the railways’ fixed and moving assets, and production of rolling stock.

The projects under execution include the development of a ticketing system on mobile phones, linking tickets to the Aadhaar facility, tracking trains in real time through the global positioning system, rolling stock using radio frequency identification, and setting up a geospatial database for the railways and a data centre to house the company’s communication system. With the aim of streamlining information throughout its network, IR adopted a step-by-step approach to modernise its communications set-up.

tele.net examines the development of its telecom set-up…

Communications infrastructure

According to S.S. Mathur, general manager, corporate coordination, CRIS, IR had established electronic data processing (EDP) centres in the 1960s for batch processing of payroll, inventory control and revenue management. However, these data centres had no connectivity until the 1990s.

Today, the EDP centres are being used for payroll and financial applications. They are connected to local area networks via the Railnet network, which functions on IR’s and RailTel’s optic fibre cable backbone as well as copper networks for last mile connectivity.

In the 1980s, the passenger reservation system (PRS) used DECNet, a suite of network protocols created by the Digital Equipment Corporation, and 9600 bps channels connecting all the servers to each PRS counter. In 1997, this set-up was upgraded and a core network using 64 kbps leased lines was established to connect the central servers to provide ticketing facilities. Although this system is still in use, its bandwidth has increased manifold.

Currently, ticketing services are offered through a resilient and hierarchical two-tier IP network. The counters for the reserved and unreserved ticketing systems are connected via Ethernet and 2 Mbps leased lines to the central servers, which are interconnected through a network of leased lines.

The network comprises IR’s existing leased lines and those obtained from RailTel Corporation, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited and other telecom vendors.

Other railway applications such as the freight operations information system (FOIS), integrated coaching maintenance system, crew management system and control office application are launched through a mesh network running on redundant leased lines with VSATs to connect remote network nodes. Last mile connectivity is achieved via digital subscriber lines.

The FOIS is the primary logistics management system of IR. Its components include a rake management system, a terminal management system, an e-payment gateway and web query systems. The system is used for electronic data exchange with partner organisations, ensuring interface with other information systems, and data analytics and warehousing.

The leased line network consists of about 30,000 nodes. The company has also installed dedicated high-bandwidth networks for data replication, which is critical for disaster readiness.

The central data centre is secured through the use of firewalls and intrusion protection systems with a demilitarised zone separating the secure zone from the internet. A high-bandwidth gateway is provided by several telecom vendors to access the internet as well as private secure networks.

Moreover, several customer-centric applications such as the SMS gateway are being used to provide various updates to customers. In addition, there are initiatives for purchasing tickets through mobile phones.

Challenges and benefits

“Being a large organisation which works 24x7x365, the implementation of multiple telecom and IT applications was challenging for us,” says Mathur.

However, these upgraded communications networks have helped the company become more responsive to its customers. “For instance, tickets can be purchased online and passengers can avail of information on the internet and through SMS. Internally as well, accurate information is made accessible to managers to help them in quick decision-making. In addition, facilities such as SMS alerts and kiosk-based sign-on/sign-off have simplified the processes.”

Going forward, several initiatives such as deploying mobile ticketing services, setting up self-service ticketing kiosks, collecting field data through mobile devices and wayside equipment, and launching mobile applications for the maintenance and operating staff have been proposed.

 
 
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